“We’re a voluntary organisation that’s all about Kiwis helping Kiwis,” says Keith Flamank, president of Kiwis in LA. “We have people in their 20s through to their 70s. Some of the younger ones have arrived to try and make it Hollywood, whereas others have been here for 30 or 40 years, successful in business. There’s a huge diversity.”
Kiwis in LA is a California-based organisation that was established in 2000 to enable New Zealanders living in Los Angeles and the Orange Counties to “get together and keep each other up to date on things New Zealand” such as “where to buy Marmite” and find out “who makes the best pies”! Popular regular events include the Waitangi Day Brekkie, Summer Picnic, Air New Zealand Art Show and Wine Tasting, and, of course the Christmas Party. There’s even a local group who perform pretty a mean haka. Not only is it reassuring to hear a Kiwi accent when based so far from home, but, adds Keith, it’s important for the kids to keep a connection to their roots, too.
“Quite a few of the children were born in the States with their parents having moved over for work,” he continues. “So, it’s nice that they keep it up, not just the parents, but the kids. They keep the Kiwi-ness alive!”
Keith, who was born in Gore but grew up in Christchurch, now lives in Long Beach with his partner, who hails from New York. “We’re 30 minutes south of Los Angeles—I try to avoid going up there because of the traffic,” he chuckles. “But it’s lovely where we are, a block from the beach and a block from a lagoon. And the weather is always beautiful.”
He has lived across the Pacific since way back in 2001, arriving just days after 11 September.
“There has always been some form of expat organisation here because there’s has always been a fair New Zealand business presence,” says Keith, who formerly worked in advertising. “There are quite a few Kiwis now in tech, and there are smaller companies who have come over to distribute in the States. One company that has done really well here is Pic’s Peanut Butter.”
So, is Kiwis in LA about networking as well as socialising?
“Absolutely, yes. That’s something that we really try to build. We love introducing people and businesses to each other. We send out monthly newsletters and have a good social media presence. It’s all about community.”
The Kiwis in LA database is around 1,200 members-strong, but, Keith laughs, who knows how many Kiwis are out there: “They pop up out of the woodwork all of the time, especially at rugby screenings! You can be in the middle of nowhere in Illinois and come across a Kiwi.”
I ask him how the reputation of New Zealand has evolved over the near-20 years he’s been in California.
“It’s becoming better known all of the time, people are definitely more aware of it. I certainly noticed it begin with things like Lord of the Rings. The first thing any American will say is that they’ve heard how beautiful it is and express a desire to go there. They were aware of the Christchurch quakes and more recently the terrorist attack. It got a lot sympathy and they were very impressed with the New Zealand reaction. We also did some fundraisers here.”
Aside from rattling off the obvious (“Whittaker’s chocolates, the coffee, but not Marmite!”), Keith’s a little stumped when pressed on what he most misses about life in New Zealand. He’s “happy and content” and comes ‘home’ regularly, bringing his partner over the Pacific at least 30 times. So much of life is so similar in California. It all feels so familiar: the great wine, spectacular landscape, same language, “though better weather!” Plus, he adds, it’s just been so long. Keith, having immediately clocked my British accent, says that it must be the same-but-different feeling for me in Aotearoa.
“Like a parallel universe,” I suggest.
“Yes,” agrees Keith. “It’s like a parallel universe.”
The Great Kiwi Diaspora
According to the international data company Statista, 14.1 percent of the Kiwi population lives overseas—that’s twice as many as the UK, and three times more than the Netherlands. Of the OCED nations, only Ireland has more at 17.5 percent. Just 0.5 percent of the US population lives abroad.
However, as written in the 2016 book Going Places: Migration, Economics and the Future of New Zealand by Julie Fry and Hayden Glass, getting an exact number is nigh on impossible without census data from all the other countries. The generally agreed figure hovers around one million.
Australia’s 2016 census reveals there to be more than half-a-million Kiwis residing across the ditch, and in the UK it’s just shy of 60,000, according to their Office for National Statistics.
A 2018 survey by HSBC concluded Kiwis who head abroad can bag an average salary increase of $32,000 a year. Similarly, research by Kiwi expat network has concluded 40 percent of overseas Kiwis to earn in excess of $100,000, while 80 percent earn the average NZ wage or higher.
The most financially rewarding destinations for Kiwis are the UK, US, Australia, China, Singapore, Switzerland and the UAE.
As for what expat Kiwis most miss, Kiwi Corner Dairy, an online retailer of New Zealand products, say that their biggest sellers include Whittaker’s chocolate (especially the Jelly Tip block), Pascall’s Pineapple Lumps and Sunshine clothes pegs. One customer regularly orders New Zealand dog treats from the US, and they even send parcels to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica.